Saturday, May 20, 2023

Remembering “Baba” – A Proverbs 31 Grandmother


As we celebrate Mother’s Day, we honor our own mother and are remembered by our children, but we should also give thanks for all the women in our lives who have inspired, encouraged, supported and loved us. For me, that includes all of you ladies, and especially Baba, my grandmother!

Marya, my mother's mother, was born in a small village near Kiev, Ukraine. As a young girl and teen she was said to be the best folk dancer in her village! Judging from the lavishly decorated, traditional tea towels, aprons and blouses she made and my mother still had decades later, she was also a talented and creative artist. As a special treat on rainy days in childhood, I was allowed to open the steamer trunk containing these linens, their once bright red and purple embroidery faded to maroon and tan, yet still rich in their intricate designs.

When she was 16, Marya fell in love and emigrated to Canada with her husband, a mining engineer, leaving her family and country and following him with the faithfulness of Ruth (1:16-17). They had a hard life in blustery Nova Scotia, and although she gave birth to 10 children, including three sets of twins, my mother was the only one who survived past infancy. The others died from pneumonia or other infections, as antibiotics were not yet available.

Her husband died suddenly when he was 35, probably from a brain aneurysm, two weeks after telling her that he would die soon because he had seen Jesus. Yet she was faithful to God through it all, praying to Jesus, drawing strength from her faith in Him, and serving Him even in the trials (1 Thessalonians 3:8; 2 Timothy 4:7; Hebrews 12:1; Galatians 6:9)

Although she had never learned to read, write, or speak much English, Marya and my mother moved to New York City shortly thereafter. Marya worked very hard in a bakery in the lower East Side, and became an active and loyal member in the sisterhood of the local Russian Orthodox church. Although she made hardly any money, she scrimped and saved to fund the purchase of a beautiful, full wall mural of Ruth gleaning in Boaz' field (Ruth 2:8) for her church. Her humble home was always open for hospitality, and she was always ready to give generously to those in need (Luke 6:38; Philippians 4: 16; Mark 9: 41; Matthew 6).

When my mother married, she moved to a small town in Pennsylvania where my dad worked. Seven years later, when I was born, my parents invited my grandmother to come live with her in the new house they were building so she could help raise me. Imagine their surprise when they went to pick her up at the train station and she was carrying an unassuming satchel containing $10,000 in small bills -- nearly a fortune in those days -- to help with the down payment on the house!

While awaiting my arrival, she cooked, cleaned, and made a huge pair of down-filled pillows for my parents, complete with crocheted-trim linen pillowcases!

When I learned to speak, I called her “Baba,” the Ukrainian pet term for grandmother, or old woman (“babushka”). She did so much more than help to raise me -- she was a great role model of faith and prayer. One of my earliest memories is seeing and hearing her pray out loud in her bedroom, where she kept a framed picture of the Last Supper by a portrait of her husband, and singing the Russian version of “Come, Thou Almighty King.”

One winter vacation in the then-small town of Hollywood, FL, when I was six, Baba spotted a couple of vacant lots in the middle of nowhere and insisted she wanted to buy them "to pay for Laurie's education." Despite the concerned, well-meant advice of my parents, she went ahead and purchased these lots for a song. Ultimately, when Hollywood became a busy and popular tourist destination, proceeds of those lots paid in full for my medical school education!

While leaving me this inheritance, she left me far more -- her shining example of faith and love that can't be measured by worldly standards of education, income and position. Not to mention my penchant for dance and for real estate! When, as a 14-year-old, I helped to care for her in the end stages of stroke and Alzheimer's, she inspired me to pursue a career in medicine, specifically in neurology and in dementia research.

Marya was a true Proverbs 31 woman who blessed her children, her husband, and all those in her household, community, and sphere of influence (v. 12). She was virtuous (v. 10), faithful (v. 11), hard-working (v. 13-16, v. 27), morally and physically strong (v. 17), generous and charitable (v. 20), She had a realistic opinion about herself (v. 18), provided for her family through her hard work and planning (v. 21, 24), and enhanced the reputation of her husband (v. 23). She was kind, speaking the truth in love (v. 26).

How can we become a Proverbs 31 woman, whose family and community recognize that the blessings she gives them are priceless? (v.10, 28, 29). Not by relying on our social skills or our physical charms, but by fearing the Lord – by putting His will for our life ahead of all else (v.30).

May we respect, honor (Exodus 20:12) and cherish our mothers, grandmothers and sisters, by blood or in Christ, while they are yet with us, and may we learn from their Godly legacy of faith, sacrificial love, and service (Proverbs 22: 6; 29: 15; 1 Timothy 5: 5). May they inspire us to give such an example and leave such a legacy for those following us! 

© 2013 Laurie Collett
Reposted from the archives


Brenda said...

Laurie, this was a really beautiful post to read. You have a lovely family history, and the fact that they originated from Ukraine is heart warming. My husband and I keep updated with what is sadly going on there now, and no matter what those poor people are going through at the moment - God is totally in charge. God bless you for sharing this lovely story.

Laurie Collett said...

Thank you, Brenda, for your lovely comment. I pray daily for Ukraine, and what is happening there is truly heartbreaking. But God is control and will prevail. God bless you,

Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
Thank you for sharing your family history.
Both your grandparents were Godly people, yet out of the ten children she had given birth, only your mother survived into adulthood.
Having lost all three of our daughters to adoption whilst still very young, this shows that we were never "worse sinners" than those who saw all their children grow into adults.
On the contrary, this reminded me of Haman, Esther's enemy and oppressor. He had ten sons who all grew up to adulthood. Yet, his wickedness eventually overtook him and all his sons, leaving his wife an aging childless widow.
As for your grandparents, they would be with all their children in heaven, as they would all appear as adults.
Blessings to you and Richard.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
It is certainly true that being a devoted Christian is no guarantee that we will be spared trials, only that Jesus will never forsake us in the midst of these. Our former Pastor was one of the most Godly men I could ever hope to meet, yet God took him home at age 40 after an agonizing ideal with lung and brain cancer, leaving behind a pregnant wife and two other young children, and a growing church. Today we are in prayer for a young man named Christian, who went to school with our son and is about the same age. He has devoted his life to being in full-time ministry on a college campus and is married with four children, the oldest of whom is 7. Yet he recently was diagnosed with lung and brain cancer not responding to treatment, and now he has seizures and is unable to communicate.
God must have a plan, but we often find His ways and thoughts difficult to understand, for they are far higher than ours.
How wonderful it must be for saved people who have lost unborn or very young children to be reunited with them in Heaven, where, as you say, they are adults. I'm looking forward to meeting my aunts and uncles who perished very young.
Thank you for your comment and God bless,